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So, as some of you may know, a while back one of my dozens of emails sent out to open mic organisers to check that their nights were still running, yielded one reply from somebody called Line, telling me that they had moved to Denmark, but that they’d set up a sister night over there and I was very welcome to come and take part if I wanted to. So I did.
I have to say I felt rotten. Really depressed. I’d had a fantastic weekend – on Thursday I’d got to read from We Can’t All Be Astronauts for the first time ever at Bookslam, then I actually got to sign copies of my book. Wow! On Friday, I got up on stage and talked to an audience about what I’m doing now, this whole open mic journey, and – although I was really nervous and felt like I was flying blind – people seemed to like it. Then, on Saturday, it was my good mate Joel’s wedding. I used to hate weddings, until they started happening to people I cared about. Joel and Fran’s wedding was not just lovely, but fun, too. They didn’t want to do all that ‘bride and groom’s first dance’ nonsense, so when the band opened their set with a cover of Amy Winehouse’s Valerie (you know, the one that sounds like a poor man’s Town Called Malice), Paddy and Luke ran for the dancefloor and started pogoing. Right in that moment, I felt deliriously happy. I really love my friends.
So perhaps a comedown was inevitable. Also, I was knackered, and my hayfever had suddenly, aggressively kicked in, filling my sinuses with snot and making my eyes water. My lungs felt as if they were stuffed with straw. Århus airport is surrounded by field upon field of undulating yellow oilseed rape, so for a hayfever martyr like myself it was like breathing in the noxious air of an industrial smelting works. Most of all, I had some problems back in England that I felt were about to come to a head. I couldn’t see any way round them, and lying in the gloom of my little room, hundreds of miles away, I felt powerless and doomed.
Then I thought, what the fuck are you doing? You’re in a foreign city you’ve never been to before. It’s a beautiful day. Get out of this room.
I suspected I’d still feel glum once outside, but I thought sod it. Feeling helpless and alone whilst exploring a new city didn’t sound appreciably worse than feeling helpless and alone whilst lying in a cramped hotel room, so I might as well just give it a spin.
It turned out to be one of the loveliest cities I’ve ever visited. I took a walk down to the docks, which were right by my hotel, and sat on the quay, watching various groups of men pull wriggling silver fish out of the water on their lines. Århus is the largest container port in Europe – fact.
I bumbled through the streets, smiling as groups of roistering youths clobbered one another with giant inflatable hammers. I wandered up the hill and found a wooden windmill in a park. Some students were sitting next to it on a tartan rug, eating a picnic out of a wicker hamper. Next to the hamper was a plastic travel-kennel, the front door open, and a chubby lop-eared black rabbit in a red collar with silver studs, munching the grass.
Getting outside was the best thing I could have done. Sure, taking your mind off your problems doesn’t solve them, but if, right at that moment, you can’t solve them, taking your mind off them is the best policy. I sat in the rock garden, amongst plants from New Zealand, Africa, South America, Japan and China, felt the warmth of the sun against my back and listened to birds sing like old modems. It was really pleasant and relaxing. I spent a while picking up stones, exploring their textures with my thumb, and turning them in the light, the way I’d been taught up in Glasgow.
Later, Line, the organiser, picked me up from the station, where some people were waving Tamil Tiger flags and protesting against the continued fighting in Sri Lanka. Line drove me to the venue, a little café. The open mic was really good fun. There was a mix of music and poetry in various languages, ending with a chap playing accordion. Before he started each song, he gave out elaborate audience participation instructions that took almost twice as long as the song itself. Audience members shrugged apologetically and did their best not to comply, but he refused to take the hint. I began to feel a bit like we were in a hostage situation.
John, who had done a couple of songs earlier on, and was also from England, turned to me with a rueful smile and whispered: ‘The Danish are a very patient people.’ A couple wheeling a bike past the window peered in to see what was going on, and I almost mouthed: ‘Help us.’